Saturday, November 22, 2008

Recent conversations

A few observations from recent conversations:

A couple of days ago, I was talking with a publisher here. We were talking about one of the current issues discussed by members in the opposition and by members of the foreign community: the impending closure of the Azerbaijani-language version of Radio Liberty. I’ve heard different views on this. Some people think it’s not a big deal. The consensus I’ve heard from the foreigners living here is that it is a big deal, and backchannel protests are being registered by various embassies here.

The fellow I was talking with said the closure would be a like clear line. If they can get away with this, then they will know that they can get away with even more repressive actions.

I won’t put any money on the outcome at this point, but let’s just say that it’s not clear that the closure will be stopped.

In another conversation, an Azerbaijani journalist told me that the websites of Radio Liberty and the Turan News Agency have already be shut down in Nakhchivan, the Azerbaijan autonomous republic bordering Iran. Nakhchivan is generally accepted to be the most repressive area of Azerbaijan, and some people regard it as a testing area for policies to be tried in the country at large. I’ve known a few people from this region, and I knew one U.S. citizen who lived there. People describe the stark physical beauty of the place and the grim political realities of a regime close to a police state.

Yesterday I was talking politics with some people from Iran and Azerbaijan. One of the men remarked on the dissent in Iran to the current regime. For example, a recent declaration criticizing the current Iranian leadership was made by a large group of economists in that country. The natural question: could such an event occur in Azerbaijan.

It was deemed unlikely. Why?

One man, an Azerbaijani, said that a key difference is that Iran never had experience with communism. In communist countries, private property rights were destroyed, and the countries still live with this legacy. So if a person dissents or causes trouble for the regime, there is an easy solution. Take away his property. Without any property, he will suddenly have bigger problems and he will forget about his dissent. He will be muzzled and intimidated.

One of the guys joked that Iran, they would just kill you.

But perhaps killing certain people is not always an option – and so we have this recent demonstration of dissent in Iran.